When I was in 7th grade, I had to take an elective class. I chose band, because a friend of mine chose band and you’re dumb when you’re a kid and just wanna do what your friend is doing. I also made another mistake by choosing trumpet, which my asthma sincerely thanked me for. However, during my one year in band, I also met a girl playing trombone named Natasha. As a burgeoning lesbian, I had the absolute biggest crush on this girl, and we talked a lot in class and when we saw eachother around campus. People weren’t too fond of me because I was weird, and while people liked her a bit more, she had the same sort of issue. Come 8th grade, when we were learning what high schools we’d be attending, she discovered she was going to a totally different highschool than I would, and since social media wasn’t as much a thing back then, it was harder to stay in touch, so I was pretty sad about our lives parting ways.
After I graduated highschool, I moved to a small, seaside town. On the drive over the small mountain between where I grew up and the new place, I stopped and had lunch at a diner on the highway. When I walked in and sat at the bar, someone said my name and low and behold it was Natasha. We sat and chatted for an hour or so while I ate and just discussed how our lives had gone since then and what we were both up to at the moment. She’d had a kid. She was living on her own. She had a steady job (she didn’t seem dissatisfied with her work, but what do I really know?) and everything seemed to be on the ups for her. Seeing someone I knew in person as a kid now as an adult really fucked me up though. Seeing someone via social media, it’s filtered, in a way, you know? It doesn’t seem as real. But seeing someone my age succeeding in person? That messed me up, dude.
All it did was drive home how poorly I was and still am doing. I’m 28. I graduated high school. I have a film and multimedia degree from a trade school. I have never had a “real” job. The closest I’ve come to employment is the freelance writing I’ve done for a few years, which stopped paying about a year ago now. I am 28 and I am fucked beyond every comprehension. I have no money to my name, I am living in a bedroom without paying rent because it’s the only option I had, and I rely on my girlfriend for everything. I could’ve been so much more. I could’ve done so much more. But, when you get no support or enthusiasm from your parents ever, it makes trying seem pointless. I wanted to impress people. I wanted to impress my parents. Seeing everyone else my age have an apartment, some buying full homes, some having children and getting married…
…it’s soul crushing. It makes you wonder why you should even go on trying. And that’s when the depression I’d been dealing with for my entire adolescence finally kicked into high gear and I found myself wanting to die. We compare ourselves to everyone around us, society values us at how much we accomplish, who has enough money, the nicer car, the better job, so when you have nothing whatsoever, it makes you realize not only do you look upon yourself as a failure, so does the rest of society. It isn’t just a personal thing. It’s how you feel everyone feels about you. Society tells you if you don’t have as much as your friends that you’re not as successful, and then society has the gall to follow that up with, “But don’t worry about what others think about you! Their opinions have no meaning!”
I’m a 28 year old gay woman. I don’t have children, I am not married, I don’t own any property, I don’t have a real job and I, by all accounts, am a failure. But that’s okay. I’m GOOD at that. I’m GOOD at failing. I’ve been succeeding at it in spades all my life. Would I like to be “successful”? You betch yer sweet bippy I would. Am I ashamed of being “unsuccessful”? Hell no, cause I know nobody can hold a candle to my shame. Time and time again I have to relearn that it’s okay to suck. That it doesn’t make me less than anyone else. That it, in and of itself, is something I succeed at doing, and to take pride in that because if I don’t, I wouldn’t take pride in anything.
Okay, so Natasha might have her life seemingly together.
But I have perspective, and that’s just as important.
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Recently, I acquired a lot of paperwork from my earlier years in school, elementary mostly, and came across some things that really surprised me. Here’s some slightly edited quotes from one particular packet, called the “Psycho Educational Assessment Report”.
Maggie was referred to the Student Study Team at [redacted] by her first grade teacher because of concern about her behavior. She tended to need constant one to one attention from the teacher and she was referred to the Resource Room for assistance as well. Maggie is noted to be very bright, creative and enthusiastic. Her verbal and reading skills are well advanced for her age and she can create long stories while playing with toys and recite full poems. She is loving and appreciative, but can also be stubborn. When in kindergarten, her teacher there gave her lots of individual help and love, but when she entered [redacted], she had severe emotional, social and behavioral problems and said “I want to die”. She would run away from the teacher and sit under her desk. Her parents got a divorce when she was three or four and she does not see her father.
This was all well and fine, except, ya know, the whole “I want to die” statement by first grade, but let’s just ignore that and test the kid, right? It’s the american way, dammit. As I read through some of the stuff I found, I was actually delighted by some of what, especially my high school teachers, had said about me. It lifted my spirits to know some of them personally enjoyed engaging with me in one on one conversations about serious or misc topics, and didn’t ever find me to be a problem. Goes to show what your parents tell you and what is actually the truth, I guess. However, let’s just stick to this packet, because there’s another section I want to quote here:
The Childrens Perception Test is a test in which the child tells stories about single pictures presented to them that have animals depicted on them in varying situations. When stories to this last test are subjectively interpreted, they yield information about underlying or subconscious concerns and motivations for surface behaviors. The house-tree-person drawing is also interpreted in light of the various aspects emphasized and yields information about underlying emotional issues.
Maggie tended to want to tell her own stories, but instead told stories from books/videos she had seen. She insisted on telling those and would give only very little on the cards presented to her. On the ones she did give, she tended to have themes of escape, getting stuck forever in goo. Maggie does not tend to want to reveal much of herself and seems to be strong defenses for a girl her age. Her drawing of a house, tree and a person are all very simply. The person is the biggest, but has no arms or hands. The house has a door and one window and a steep roof. The tree has a trunk and curly crown for the leaves. Her responses to questions about the house, tree ad person are very interesting. She indicates the person is a kid who is not healthy, that something is upsetting her. She said she had a dog and it ran away and came back and the kid started to be healthy again. She indicated the kid was more upset about the dog than the parents since she “didn’t like how the parents were treating her, pushing her and giving her nothing.” Sometimes fed her but gave her no attention and eventually left her and went to Paris to live. She says the parents do not care about the girl. She indicated the parents were nuts but the girl as not. The girl and the tree were indicated to be very strong, so much so that if a strong wind came along, it would blow down the house, but not the girl or the tree. When asked who was the girls best friend, she said “the house”. A subjective interpretation of all of the above indicates Maggie is still preoccupied with where she falls in relationships within the family and is concerned with getting enough attention. There is some anger regarding parents and desire to get what she wants. Maggie seems to expect the worst at times and seems to feel a lack of control over her environment (lack of arms or hands) and wishes for more interaction with those in her environment. But at times she feels “stuck”, perhaps in a pattern of behavior that doesn’t allow others to get close to her.
Results from the above indicates Maggie is feeling generally good about herself in the school environment at the present time but feels something lacking at home and in social situations. Overall she has low self esteem particular to having friends and feels her parents expect too much of her. In regards to friends, she indicates she is not popular with kids her own age, kids don’t follow her ideas, she often feels upset in school, feels others are better liked than her, would rather play with children younger than her and feels picked on by other children. Maggie has a low opinion of herself.
Keep in mind, this is all written up and tested by the time I was in FIRST GRADE, okay? I really think that puts everything into perspective. By the time I was 6, I already felt hated by everyone, felt trapped, stuck and hated myself and didn’t know what to do. That isn’t right. And what do my parents do? Do they talk to me? No. They have a school test me, as if that’s the only accurate way to understand a child. But wait, there’s a final section here I’d like to share, if you’ll so indulge me:
Maggie is currently a six year old first grader who has had a difficult time adjusting to the expectations of a first grade classroom. Test results indicate she is quite bright but has difficulty following directions from others. She likes to do what she wants to do and can resist instructions. She is also very likeable and fun to talk to. Her verbal skills are excellent and far above where her academic skills are. She tens to be a perfectionist at times and doesn’t want to do something unless she knows it will be just right. The Conners Questionnaire indicates a strong likelihood of her having an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or being on the Autism Spectrum, and this should be investigated with her pediatrician.
Social and emotional testing indicates Maggie has somewhat of a low self esteem and feels some conflict at home and in social situations. She now sees school as a positive place but that has taken some work by many staff members as well as Maggie herself in the last few months. She needs lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement to stick with things that are challenging. Counseling is recommended to help Maggie work with her expectations of herself, learn how to handle mistakes better, how to handle her frustrations, how to get attention from teachers in appropriate ways and find ways to increase her self esteem. These things are most likely impacting her in the school setting and in social settings. Her rebellion and immature behavior makes other students her age not want to be her friend. She very much wants friends and seems to deal best with adults in her world. Maggie likes to present herself as very sure of herself and yet is really very protective, feeling vulnerable and not wanting to show it. Instead, she begins to go off on a tangent about another story to distract people and uses her verbal and dramatic skills to get attention and applause where she seems to need.
I am presenting this to you because I think it drives home a strong, vindicating point. That you need to TALK to your children. My parents didn’t care. They didn’t push for these tests. These happened because the school felt it was necessary, and not because they cared about me, but because I was seemingly “disruptive”, despite so many contradicting statements within the findings themselves. They will say I deal with adults better than children my own age, say my verbal and some academic skills are way ahead and then two sentences later say I’m “rebellious and immature”. These places don’t know what to do with children because they don’t talk to children. They just slap some labels on them and go about their day, hoping everyone is pleased as punch with their “findings” and “tests”.
Second, despite it giving me two possible diagnosis to be checked into, my parents refused to ever look into EITHER of them. So, ya know, there’s that. The thing that strikes me as funny about this is how much praise they can laud on a child they also see as a problem. “Yes, they’re very bright and articulate, they do very well and we like them very much, yet they are an enormous problem”. You can’t contradict yourself like that, especially when it comes to a child, especially a child that isn’t even fucking yours and you only see, what, 5 times a week? That you don’t live with? That you know virtually nothing about? Growing up, I was told the opposite of these papers. See, my parents, they told me teachers and kids found me to be a problem. They never praised me. Teachers praised me, my skills, my reading skills, my academic skills (outside of the math area) and yet all the while I believed that I was a problem, that I wasn’t good enough because my parents told me I was. They left out all the positive shit because they thought that by telling me I wasn’t being right, I would try harder to be better. They never even anticipated the idea that that might NOT WORK.
I was much less a child and much more a social experiment, it seems. In the last few years, my mother has still tried to control me even from states away. My stepfather recently unfriended me on facebook and hadn’t spoken to me since he and my mother divorced back in 2008, and yet my father, my real father, who has barely been involved in my life, sent me an email in July. My father, who was for many years a heavy alcoholic, a drug user, was in an out of prison, who told me he’d come see me when I was a little girl and then left me sitting on the curb on weekends because he never showed up or bothered to call…
…my father sent me an email, and in it he stated, “I am sorry your childhood wasn’t better. I love you very much.” See, my father has worked hard at fixing himself. My father has stopped drinking, hasn’t used drugs in god knows how long, hasn’t been to prison in ages. My father has bettered himself. My father APOLOGIZED. The only time any other adult has apologized to me is when it works in their favor, a bargaining chip, something to be held up and used later so they can get me to do what they want. My father has nothing. That’s what makes it sincere. He just wants to be in my life. He said he was sorry. It isn’t that hard to be a parent. You just have to be a good human being at first. Tests can only tell you so much, but talking to your child, taking a real concern and interest in them? That can take you so much further than any fucking test ever could. These tests are bullshit.
I’m still bright. I’m still articulate. I’m still far ahead and don’t get along with people my age. I’m just broken because of it. I have low self esteem? No. Everyone else has a low esteem about me. They want to label me, but I know what and who I am.
I am Maggie Fucking Taylor. I am a shining, explosive, brilliant, uncatergorizable mess.
And no goddamned test can tell me otherwise.
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“Did you cry again last night?” she asked, her eyes peering at her from behind those oval glasses. She was sitting on the other side of the table, in her nice, grey business suit, calmly writing down anything Sara would say.
“I cried more than just last night,” Sara said, sounding ashamed, looking down at her hands, cuffs around her wrists, “I cry multiple times a day now it seems. Not even just, like, what I used to do, but full on sobbing now. It’s awful. I feel so disgusted everytime.”
“It’s understandable,” she said, “It’s a natural feeling most have in your situation when faced with feelings they’d rather not be faced with. Any other feelings you’ve been having lately that you think I should know about?”
“…anger. I’ve been so angry at myself for being this way,” Sara mumbled, her brow furrowing, her nails digging into her pant leg, “If I hadn’t been this way, things would’ve been different. I would be out there and not in here. I would have a life. I’ve been feeling jealous too, jealous of the people who can control this so easily. How do they do it? Why don’t they have these problems?”
“Again, all understandable emotions to be feeling,” she said, before putting her pen down on the table with the clipboard and sitting up straighter, cupping her hands on the table and smiling at Sara, “Miss Meakes…you’ve been in here now for…I think it’s been almost 4 and 1/2 months now, yes? Do you want to be out there? Do you want to be like us?”
“I…don’t know, and that’s the worst part, I…I feel like I don’t because feeling these things makes me so unique…I’m different. Of course, being different is what’s got me locked away from everyone, but…haven’t you ever wanted to feel this way?” Sara asked, forcing a confused look scamper across the womans face for a moment.
“Haven’t you ever wanted to feel this way?” Sara repeated herself.
“God no, not at all. No, it’s so much easier being the way I am, the way we all are. I admit that sometimes when I read about the past, about how you need to be able to feel a certain thing to comprehend a piece of classic art, literature, what have you, that I do on occasion wish I could feel that way for a brief moment, if only to understand the piece better…but in the end, it isn’t worth it. These things, they’re what made our world so bad. They’re what caused all the pain and suffering. No, things…things are better now, believe me.”
“…I think the worst is feeling love. I love my parents, but I know full well they don’t love me,” Sara said, “Because they can’t, not because they wouldn’t if they could. I understand the difference. It still hurts though. I wish they could.”
A timer on the womans watch beeped, and she looked at it, then collected her things and stood up, Sara doing the same. She reached over the table and shook Sara’s hand and smiled.
“Thank you Miss Meakes. I will see you again in a month, and we’ll pick up from there, and I do hope things change for you,” she said, before turning and heading out of the white room, leaving Sara alone again. As she exited, she found a man standing by the exit, waiting for her, eating an apple. He was dressed just as she was, same casual business attire, same boring expression on his face.
“So?” he asked.
“She’s not going anywhere for a while. If anything, it’s getting worse,” she said, “I wish I could feel bad for her. I wish I could, so I could really understand how much she’s hurting, but I just don’t.”
“It’s better you don’t,” the man said, and she nodded.
“I know that, but still…sometimes I think about what it’d be like to feel these things. To feel love, anger, sadness. To have emotions. These poor people, kept away from the rest of the cold, emotionless world, all because they feel what we once considered basic human emotions. What they have was once considered normal. Human. Now they’re different. ‘Unique’. But I know it’s better this way, I do know that.”
“Come on,” the man said, finishing the apple and tossing it into a garbage can, “Let’s go file this, we have other cases to get to.”
As they left, the woman glanced over her shoulder and saw Miss Meakes being taken from the room by her handler, presumably back to her cell. When their eyes connected, Sara smiled at her, and for one fleeting second, the woman swore she felt good inside.
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